“Touchscreen” strikes me as a bit of a misnomer–sure, we manipulate digital objects on our phones and iPads with our fingers, but those objects can’t touch us back in the way our bodies and brains are used to–they’re trapped under glass. A student designer named Michael Knuepfel devoted his thesis project to breaking down this barrier, and created seven experimental interfaces that are “designed to improve upon or supplement the functionality of capacitance touchscreens.” The devices are weird, playful, and handmade–as if Michel Gondry collaborated with MIT Media Lab:
Knuepfel writes that “My goal in constructing these external devices is to make touchscreen interactions more tactile, physical and potentially more expressive and fun.” Several of his experimental designs unapologetically emphasize the “fun” part: “Dial-a-rama” looks like a handmade gameshow contraption, while “Pulse Generator” and “Mechanical Stylus” have bizarre functions I couldn’t even discern. On the other hand, “Game Controller” (which provides physical buttons for smartphone gaming) and “Digital Signet Rings” (like a cereal box decoder ring for the kids of 2025) combine their toylike physicality with practical use cases.
The most delightful of Knuepfel’s designs, though, is the mysteriously titled “Future Devices,” which opens and closes his teaser video. A physical toy that you can control by zipping your finger to and fro across your iPad? It looks like a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot of the future, and I want one–now. Mattel, hire this man!
[Top image: A still from Gondry’s semi-autobiographical film, The Science of Sleep]